8 terrible stories of companies getting sexism awareness very, very wrong

Recently we talked about workplaces holding egregiously clueless “celebrations” for various awareness days/months. Not surprisingly, a ton of the stories shared were about sexism. Here are eight stories of companies getting sexism awareness events remarkably wrong. (Note: some of the stories shared were so offensive that it’s hard to laugh at them, so these aren’t even the worst of the worst.)

1. Let men speak

We had a women’s month event at my last job called “it’s women’s month … time to let the men speak.” It was exactly as tone-deaf as you think it would be. It featured men with their chairs arranged in a circle talking to each other about how to be good allies. Every other chair in the room encircled their circle in the most bizzaro meeting layout ever. By the end of the event all women had left the room out of anger and it was only men remaining.

2. The book

At my old law firm (now defunct) the women’s resource group asked people for advice they could share in a book. When we got the “book,” it was covered in pink bows and flowers. On the “could you get more gender essentialist than this crap” front, one of my colleagues said it looked like the pamphlet her doctor gave her when she got her first period.

3. The honorees

At my (very large, recognizable) tech company last year, they honored four people for International Women’s Day, and three of them were men.

4. The slideshow

My last company celebrated International Women’s Day by inviting all the women to gather at noon to take a picture. The celebration for AAPI month was showing a slideshow of 15 pictures of Asian-American celebrities on screens around the office (six were of Lucy Liu). At least they had the spirit?

5. The missed point

In honor of women’s day, the DEI lead authored an article on how every successful man has a successful woman behind them and how amazing it is that women give birth, wear high heels and be beautiful, AND work…

6. The roses

Small company, Valentine’s Day. IT men bought lotion sets and fake roses to give to all the IT women and came into the department in a kinda parade to present to each woman.

(Okay, this wasn’t a sexism awareness event, but it’s still pretty wild.)

7. The repeated misses

We had a women’s history month event and it was unbelievably tone-deaf. Here is an excerpt from the actual email:

“The Planning Committee has organized a wonderful event in recognition of Women’s History Month, which will focus on the theme ‘Recognizing Women through the Voices of Men.’ In order to celebrate women, a panel of distinguished men will speak about the important women in their lives that have served as an influential figure to them.

Not only is it women through the voices of men (bwahahahaha!), but also, men who would definitely be talking about their moms or grandmas right! Ultimately, it was cancelled, probably due to feedback. Just amazing. It seems fake, but I have receipts.

Also each heritage/history month, posters would be display, which somehow were always insensitive. For Pride, the poster was very … sensual with people dressed … like the Village People. For Caribbean heritage month, the poster was a white family walking along a beach with a cruise ship in the background with Caribbean men playing steel drums. WHO APPROVED THESE?

Twice other offensive ideas were successfully shut down. One was senior leadership using wheelchairs all day for Disabilities Awareness Month. Another was for Pride, in which coworkers would film themselves saying nice things about their gay colleagues (potentially outing people) and draw a picture honoring them. The pictures would then be put together, in what people began calling the Quilt of the Gays … just wow!!

8. The cake

My best friend was asked to bring a cake to work for international women’s day. She brought a cake with a large chunk already cut out of it, and a note stuck on it about the pay gap. She is my hero.

{ 283 comments… read them below }

    1. Jedi Sentinel Bird*

      That is clever. And if she spent good bit of money on the cake, she might as well keep a portion of it for herself. ;)

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*


      And notice it was a woman who was put in charge of the cake.

    3. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      I was actually feeling progressively grumpier and more depressed as I read through the list. then I came to no. 8, and my spirits soared.

      Great idea to put that one at the end, Alison!

    4. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      I was getting progressively grumpier and more depressed as I scrolled down the list. Then I came to no. 8, and my spirit soared.

      Great idea to put that one at the end, Alison!

    5. SarahKay*

      Mine too. And I’m definitely stealing the idea for International Women’s Day next year.

    6. JessaB*

      The pay gap cake was pure genius, especially if she gave the chunk cut out of it to all the women to eat.

    1. Artemesia*

      Until #8 my jaw was on the floor — and then I smiled. It is what I hope I would have thought to do.

        1. Zeus*

          Some people I think use QUILTBAG as an alternative to LGBTQIA+ since it’s easier to say, but it never gained much traction.

      1. turtleturtleturtle*

        I feel like we had a quilt of the gays in the 80s, and it definitely wasn’t a happy-type event.

        1. Sylvan*

          Yeah, that’s what I thought. I hope it was an accident, but it’s such an odd idea that maybe they referenced this on purpose???

          1. just some guy*

            Maybe somebody heard about it but only remembered the “gay people – quilts” connection and not the significance of it.

            1. 1LFTW*

              That’s my thought, though I guess there’s no difference in impact between “horribly clueless” and “deliberately horrible”.

        2. It's Marie - Not Maria*

          I thought of those too. It was a sad time, and many still grieve their lost loved ones.

    1. Jessica Ganschen*

      Honestly, if I saw anybody referring to a “Quilt of the Gays”, I’d think it was a slightly confused (and possibly disrespectful) reference to the AIDS Quilt.

      1. Cyndi*

        This was my immediate reaction: someone either knowingly went “what if the AIDS quilt but CUTE and HAPPY” or was completely oblivious to the allusion they were making, and it’s a bad look either way.

    2. Artemesia*

      The thing that makes this even worse is that the quilt was of course the memorial effort during the height of the AIDS epidemic before AIDS could be managed as a chronic disease. So it has real emotional freight.

    3. tamarack etc.*

      Yeah, gay people like … quilts … for some reason. So! Quilt is it!

      :big big eye roll:

    4. Tiger Snake*

      That’s an unfortunate turn of phrase in this case. But. Uh, did the people who coined it in this event know their history?

      1. Tiger Snake*

        In the height of the AIDS epidemic – when it was still thought of as a ‘gay’ disease and so neither well treatable or viewed with sympathy and kindness, they started making a quilt with the names of everyone who died to the disease. Each square was handmade by someone who had lost someone and wanted them remembered – as thus it is a work largely undertaken and lead by the homosexual community in loving memory of the friends and family in that community who were lost.

        It weighs about 54 tons.

        Therefore, anything that links any part of the LGBTA+ spectrum and quilts in particular needs to be done with extreme care and tact, understanding the full history of connotation it carries. This did not.

        1. Anblick*

          I know what it is. I’m queer. It was a goofy joke with no disrespect in mind. Thanks for the unnecessary history lesson, though!

        1. madge*

          Dang. Well, of course she’s not. Probably too busy enjoying her generous PTO and healthcare to serve anyway

  1. BubbleTea*

    If I squint, I can almost see the merit of the wheelchair use for disability awareness. At least they would become aware of any wheelchair-inaccessible parts of the office. On its own as a sole recognition of disabled employees’ value and needs? Um, no. (Also the fact that there weren’t any disabled senior staff speaks volumes.)

    1. Mouse*

      Just wanted to point out that just because none of them were in a wheelchair, doesn’t necessarily mean none of them were disabled!

      1. BubbleTea*

        Oh, I know – but surely (surely!) if someone was disabled they’d have been in a position to shut down this suggestion before anyone else heard about it.

      2. tamarack etc.*

        Out-group people taking on the persona of a member of a marginalized group is nearly always a very very bad idea. Maybe exception if you’re literally invaded by Nazis and stand with the persecuted even if you’re not, but that’s the only thing I can come up with.

        1. There You Are*

          In the workplace? Yes. Very bad idea.

          But I have put on latex gloves and then tried to go about my normal daily activities to understand how my elderly mother — who lives with me and has neuropathy in her hands — experiences the various surfaces and items in my house.

          I had multiple “Ohh, THAT’S why she’s doing X,” moments, and was able to both reconfigure some things in my house and gain a level of understanding that keeps me from being frustrated about, say, smears of chocolate ice cream on various kitchen surfaces and door knobs. She literally can’t feel that there’s something sticky on her fingers and her vision is bad, so she has no idea that she’s leaving messy trails behind her.

          1. J*

            My husband constantly asks me why I hold something weird or have weird habits that look almost compulsive with how I touch something repeatedly at different angles. I’ve had neuropathy for 17 of our 20 years together so I am always surprised he is surprised. I’m wondering if the glove trick might actually make him get it better.

          2. Michelle Smith*

            Which is great and sensitive and I think you did the right thing. You had a specific purpose for it though that feels very different. What the leadership in this case wanted to do feels far more akin to me to putting on blackface in an effort to try and understand what it’s like to be Black. Absolutely they should not do this. If they have accessibility concerns, they can ask their employees for input or hire an outside consultant to evaluate their space or both. Riding around in wheelchairs in a performative attempt to show solidarity is not it.

    2. Quite anon*

      We had a boss get in a wheelchair for a few days to see if an office building was wheelchair accessible, because they wanted us to come on site and one of our team members was in a wheelchair.

      Boss declared it was not wheelchair accessible, because he couldn’t get the wheelchair up the ramp. Coworker took this as a challenge, and came on site for the sake of conquering the ramp. They were able to get into the building.

      1. NeutralJanet*

        I was once in a…very ineffective workshop that included a portion where we had to wear blindfolds to raise our empathy for people with sight impairments, and I couldn’t help thinking, “Actually blind people are definitely better at this than me.” I had trouble putting on a jacket while blindfolded, but obviously, millions of blind people successfully put on jackets every day. Having a person use a wheelchair for a day might make them aware of barriers to people who have just been injured in some way that requires them to use a wheelchair, but it’s not surprising that someone who had been using a wheelchair for a while was better at getting places than your boss, who was on his first or second day using one.

        1. online millenial*

          Yep!!! I work in accessibility/disability advocacy, and these kinds of “see what it’s like to be blind/a wheelchair user/etc” things actually tend to backfire WILDLY. People who aren’t used to navigating in a wheelchair or doing things without seeing struggle, unsurprisingly, and that gives them a *lower* perception of what disabled people are capable of. Meanwhile, as you realized, blind people do all these things with no problem because they’ve had experience (and in some cases, like using a white cane or a guide dog, actual multi-week training).

          What’s much more effective is to have a disabled person demonstrate how they use something–one of my favorite activities is showing off how blind, expert screen reader users process audio input at hundreds of words per minute while seamlessly navigating a website. It’s a great way to demonstrate the usefulness of a critical assistive technology–and then, after seeing how well it works on an accessible site, seeing and hearing all the problems of an inaccessible site become very, very clear.

          1. Nobby Nobbs*

            I ran into people doing one of those exercises earlier this year. They asked for directions and when I pointed out that I was about to give very bad ones (the sidewalks and buildings were all at odd angles, hard to describe verbally) and offered to walk them the single block to their destination, they were clearly required to say no. Very odd.

          2. LTR FTW*

            A few years back I went to a conference where they had a blind person on stage attempt to read the conference website with a screen reader, to make a very specific point that the website was not at all accessible. It was a great demo and stayed with with me well after the conference (in fact it might be the only thing of substance I even recall from the conference at this point!).

          3. Artemesia*

            I have a blind in-law; she has been blind from birth and is in her 40s and lives alone and has a fairly rich and interesting life. She has so many infuriating stories about being treated like a child who has to have a minder every moment. Yes, she needs help sometimes, but she doesn’t need to be told she needs help when she doesn’t. Many people with serious disabilities have learned great coping skills and of course resent being infantalized.

            1. La Triviata*

              I’ve heard stories about people in wheelchairs who are talked over or have people ask someone accompanying them what the person in the wheelchair needs without even looking at them. I’ve also heard that some people will push the wheelchair without checking where the person wants to go.

              And a while ago, we had someone working on our website who refused to use alt-text tags, on pages that were largely images, and could not be convinced that they were really needed.

              1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

                One of my friends is commissioning a set of wheelchair handle spikes from another friend with a 3D printer, for just this reason. There are quite a few designs out there to choose from.

                1. Grim*

                  Wheelchair handle spikes are such a great concept. I have an acquaintance who’s a wheelchair user and a goth, and he wraps leather bracelets with spike studs around the handles of his :)

              2. I&I*

                Oof, yeah, don’t touch someone’s mobility aid without asking! When you use something as an extension of your body, it’s a lot more personal than having someone touch your umbrella or your car.

                1. Michelle Smith*

                  And on a related note, just don’t grab a disabled person at all without asking!! I have people all the time try to “help” me by grabbing the arm that I’m using to lean on my cane. This does not help me and in fact makes it much, much harder for me to walk!

          4. I&I*

            Mind you, I wouldn’t mind making everyone in the local council try to push my rollator over all the broken, bumpy pavements in the borough for a few hours. But that’s not politics, it would be pure sweet revenge.

          5. MassMatt*

            YES! I went to a seminar about disabilities run by people with many different disabilities and blind people really took issue with this “put on a blindfold and experience what it’s like” approach. I suppose it’s mostly well-meaning but it absolutely can backfire.

            There was a lot of anger among the blind that they were (still all, probably) prohibited from sitting in emergency exit rows. The rationale was the FAA had run a “test” where they put blindfolds on sighted people, who of course had trouble opening the emergency exit, so therefore the blind were judged incapable.

            But aside from the fact that the blind are not at all like sighted people that put on blindfolds for an afternoon… what if there’s no power and the lights are down, or the cabin is filled with smoke? Who is better at figuring out the emergency door then?

      2. Don’t put metal in the science oven*

        This seems appropriate. I would hope that bosses in wheelchairs wouldn’t devolve into races and bumper cars & other rando insensitive acts

        1. Call Me Wheels*

          Tbf that’s how I use mine :P I do great wheelies :D (but on a serious note yeah people should probably behave…)

          1. There's a G&T with my name on it*

            I remember going to an archery range-cum-shop a long time ago, where one of the staff was in a wheelchair. On quiet days the staff would go shoot in the range, and on this particular day they were only dealing with me and one other person, both of whom were fairly experienced, knew what we were doing and could just get on with trying out the equipment. So the staff were taking it in turns to sit in the wheelchair, another would give them a big push and they’d fly down the range and attempt to shoot at a target like they were on horseback and having an absolute whale of a time..

    3. Nightengale*

      Lots of places do this for awareness but it turns out simulation activities increase pity more than awareness for accessibility needs. Having actual disabled people demonstrate/explain access issues works better. I have a professional acquaintance who has done a lot of the research in the problems with simulation activities.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I attended one for Medicare that was meant to show us what aging can be like. I guess spending time with my older relatives wasn’t enough…?

        There was a part where you were supposed to put on these lenses to simulate cataracts. It seemed pretty similar to what twilight without my glasses or contacts (I have severe myopia & astigmatism) is like. Because some of us have already experienced some of those “old people” things at a young age. (Now that I am middle aged, I can say that progressive lenses have come a long way since my 4th grade bifocals.)

        I am a big believer in “nothing about us without us” – just ask people to talk about their actual experience!

    4. Lynn*

      I think its interesting and telling that they couldn’t just ask or listen to this feedback though, as if they already know the only experience they value is their own personal lived experience.

    5. Splendid Colors*

      The primary reason disability justice folks dissuade people from doing “spend an hour/day in a wheelchair” or “navigate wearing a blindfold using a cane” experiences is that it doesn’t teach you what everyday life is like for experienced users of wheelchairs and canes. Abled people don’t understand the difference between “learning the basic skills is hard” and “even experienced users who aren’t crashing into other people still have problems with XYZ accessibility barriers.” These immersion experiences tend to make abled people pity disabled people more, and assume they can’t keep up with abled people based on their own “steep part of the learning curve” experience.

      1. Splendid Colors*

        I apologize for piling on. I hadn’t read far enough to see the better versions of this comment.

    6. Cat*

      I remember many years ago, when my father was on our town council he took part in a similar exercise, getting around town for several hours while in a wheelchair. It was an eye opener for him.
      A long time later he used a wheelchair himself and we were able to compare changes made in the UK (dropped curbs, slopes up to buildings etc. ) with those still lacking when we’re on holiday in Brittany.

  2. Lavender*

    At my old job, my boss once wished us a happy Pride Month and then said, “If you’ve done something you’re proud of, this is your month to celebrate!”

    She was mostly a great boss and usually put a lot of thought into inclusion and diversity, but that one…missed the mark.

    1. Lavender*

      (For context: I’m gay but wasn’t out at work at the time. There were no other openly gay people working there at the time, as far as I know.)

    2. ZSD*

      Did she really not know what pride month was, or was she intentionally changing the meaning?

      1. Lavender*

        This was in a suburb of San Francisco so either she knew or she’s been living under a rock.

  3. MEH Squared*

    I can’t with #7. Normally, I have plenty to say, but….what the actual hell???? (Especially the two ideas that were turned down–eventually.)

    #8 is a good one to end on, though. Gave me some savage glee after reading the others.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I can’t with #7 either. “Quilt of the Gays”??? Is this “The Office” or something? Candid Camera? UGH.

      1. MEH Squared*

        As others have pointed out upthread, there are some very sobering/tragic connotations with “Quilt of the Gays” (not to mention just the general WTF-ness of it) that hopefully was pointed out posthaste and what ultimately got the idea canned.

  4. D Evans*

    In #7, I can actually see a benefit to using a wheelchair for a day to become more aware of barriers to people with mobility challenges. I didn’t realize just how bad our (built in 2017, supposedly had all the environmental and accessibility certifications!!!) office tower was until my coworker was in a wheelchair for a few months… she couldn’t even hold the bathroom door open and get herself in there without help. I do think it can be beneficial to walk a mile in someone’s shoes, so to speak, to get a better understanding of their challenges. Only if it’s done with the intention to make actual improvements, though, and with consultation of people who are actually affected (and not just for a day).

    1. I should really pick a name*

      The thing is, that approach tends to be more about optics.
      There are consultants who specialize in accessibility who will likely be more effective than a few managers using a wheelchair for a day.

      1. D Evans*

        I agree, it’s definitely not the most effective approach, and absolutely should not be the main way they gather information… but sometimes decision-makers need to see things on the ground in a concrete way to really understand the severity of a situation, so I can see the benefit of it as an exercise in conjunction with accessibility consultation etc.

        1. LR*

          Someone using a wheelchair for one day for vague political correctness reasons is going to have no idea what the actual lives experienced of someone who uses a chair is like. These “initiatives” just backfire because people aren’t actually able to identify what needs to get done and develop a totally inaccurate picture of what people with disabilities actually need or experience based on their own little experiment.

          Want to know what life is like for someone with a specific disability? Or how they would feel trying to use your facilities? Ask one. There are plenty of consultants you can hire if you actually care enough to invest in the issue.

        2. elle *sparkle emoji**

          This comes back to a common issue with disability advocacy– why do abled people always want to do a silly experiment that pretends to let them experience a disability when there are disabled people willing and able to explain what it’s like to be disabled and what changes would make things more accessible. Most disabled people are knowledgeable in navigating their world with their accessibility devices in a way someone who is using a wheelchair for a few hours won’t be, so it doesn’t really achieve the goal. Just ask disabled people what they need and actually listen.

      2. Emily*

        I should really pick a name: I completely agree. It’s about optics without really changing anything. It’s like the new Starbucks CEO saying he is going to work in a Starbucks once a month. That doesn’t help anything. It’s just to make him look good.

        Like you said, they should bring in consultants to make sure their workplace is accessible if this is something they truly care about.

        1. Mouse*

          Off topic, but that’s an interesting point – I actually like Narasimhan’s policy and think it could absolutely help! It all depends on how he approaches it, of course, but if he’s actively trying to experience staff’s day-to-day and see what he could solve on a macro level, it could be so valuable. I think that’s something for leaders to aspire to. Anything to close the distance between senior leadership and the front lines!

        2. Splendid Colors*

          I wish the management of my building had to live in the maintenance guy’s apartment one weekend a month on a regular basis. More along the lines of “eating your company’s dog food” because they seriously DGAF about how insecure people feel when there’s random strangers wandering around the building and occasionally attacking someone or kicking in a door.

      3. just some guy*

        Also: are all these execs in their wheelchairs planning on using the accessible bathrooms for the day?

        If no, they’re skipping out on some of the most frustrating parts of the experience.

        But if yes, then they’re creating a problem for the actual disabled people who need those bathrooms and are now stuck behind a bunch of disability tourists.

        Likewise: where are all those wheelchairs coming from, and are there people who *need* chairs who are going to be missing out because these execs hired them all?

    2. windsofwinter*

      I mean sure, but you could also just…ask the people who are actually affected. And listen to their concerns. And take them seriously by addressing them in an expedient manner.

    3. windsofwinter*

      I mean sure, but…you could always just ask the people who are actually affected. And listen to their concerns. And take them seriously by addressing them in an expedient manner.

      1. BubbleTea*

        I once worked in a building used by the public, and the “accessible” toilet was wholly inaccessible, not only because it was locked with a staff key, but also because it was used to store bicycles.

        1. Captain Swan*

          Non accessibility can rear itself in the most unusal ways. I spent my freshman year of high school in a not really wheelchair accessible building. multi storied, one elevator which was slow, only one exit that I could legitimately use in a wheelchair. (Building was part of a historical structure, so that’s how they got around ADA.) Cue first fire drill of year I’m on the top floor, Teacher takes everyone else down the stairs forgets about me. I run into nice other teacher she sticks with me until drill is complete and we can find admin to address this issue. I believe all staff got immediate training on what to do about the student in the wheelchair during fire drills.

          1. Felis alwayshungryis*

            I mean, I suppose that’s what drills are for, but…jeez. I hope the first teacher got blasted for that.

        2. Spooncake*

          The one in my previous job was also the storage cupboard for the cleaners and the shower room for people who cycled in or went to the gym before work. Needless to say, as someone who needed to use the disabled toilet due to invisible disabilities, that was extremely unhelpful and my lack of mobility aids meant nobody really cared to make changes.

          1. Powercycle*

            I worked at place where the shower was inside the accessible restroom. No one could use the toilet if someone was in the shower. I thought it was a weird layout. They could have easily changed the layout to have the shower & restroom have their own doors. The locker room was on the other side of both.

    4. Bibliothecarial*

      It’s too much like using a disability as a costume, which the abled person merrily discards when the day is done, from what I’ve seen from disabled scholars/activists. (I am abled and not trying to speak for anyone.)

      My school had us do that in fifth grade and I remember kids with disabilities participating with abled kids. Still not sure if it was appropriate back then.

    5. Delta Delta*

      There’s a fantastic restaurant in NYC that is fully accessible, and was specifically designed that way because the owner/wine guy is a wheelchair user. I read about it, and although I am not a wheelchair user, the fact it’s sensitively designed so anyone can eat there easily made me want to try it (and the food is sublime, so that was a total win). The details about how it is accessible are clear, and I feel like this level of openness and obviousness about accessibility is a really good way to do it. I think about that a lot now when I see ramps and which way doors swing and things like that.

    6. It’sAlwaysSunny83*

      My company made a big song and dance about our new office been accessible. Now they’re having to spends tens of thousands to improve it as they never actually consulted the disabled colleagues. Turns out a lot of the office isn’t actually accessible!

    7. EchoGirl*

      Yeah, I can sort of see where that might be coming from as well. Like you mentioned with the bathroom, some inaccessibilities just aren’t visible until someone actually encounters them who needs them. I remember during some of the (relatively) recent ADA shenanigans, one of my Senators (who is a wheelchair user) pointed out that ADA requirements can seem hyper-technical until you’re the person who actually needs them, and then you realize why they’re so important, so from that perspective, I can see how that might be a benefit. (I say this as a person with disabilities myself — there have definitely been times I wish I could force someone to experience certain things the way I do for a day, just so they’d have some comprehension of how things work for me sometimes — it’s seemingly just not something people can grasp if they don’t experience it for themselves.) OTOH, it’s imperative on them to recognize this as a very specific exercise to locate accessibility barriers, rather than a more general “I’m experiencing what it’s like to be a person with a disability”, as the latter leads to the things mentioned elsewhere in this thread (i.e. assuming people with disabilities are basically incapable of getting around).

    8. Bryce*

      A stunt like that will be disrupted by the factor that people are learning to use the equipment. I think it would be better to shadow someone with a disability as they explore the space/tasks, assuming it can be done with the appropriate attitude (which for a boss/employee relationship isn’t necessarily easy). My mother had an ankle injury years ago that took a lot of time to get used to and I was an extra hand for a year. Over that time we both learned to see a lot we’d taken for granted.

      My favorite story is the physical therapy office she was going to, which had both stairs and ramp access. Most of their clients with mobility issues just used the ramp, but Mom always wanted to test her limits and when she was able started taking the stairs — which is how we discovered the handrail had come loose and wobbled dangerously if used for support. They fixed that quickly, and it was interesting to look at and figure out how many people had taken those stairs and dealt with the wobble without even registering it, even in an environment where they would have awareness.

    9. Keymaster of Gozer*

      It’s one of those ideas that looks great on paper but doesn’t work in practice. Because to get the real feel of the struggles of a disability you have to live in our shoes all day for an extended period of time. Wheeling around the office is one thing, trying to get around the office when you’ve already had the morning struggle to get dressed, I to your car, drive in, get down that blasted ramp that’s always covered in rainwater is very different.

      The best way to improve accessibility is to ASK disabled people what would help US.

  5. TomatoSoup*

    I’m guessing that someone working at #7 had vague recollections of the AIDS Quilt and that transformed into “Queer people like quilts!” in their heads. I mean, there are multiple queer quilting (and other crafting) groups, but it’s not a unifying interest for everyone.

    1. beware the shoebill*

      I mean…QUILTBAG? (Queer, Uncertain, Intersex, Lesbian, Trans*, Bi, Asexual, Gay)

      1. legal rugby*

        I have never actually heard that used outside of teaching safezone, and I’m very curious where it came from.

        1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

          I’d seen it as QuILTBAG (the “u” being there for pronounceability), as something easier to remember and pronounce than strings of initials like “LGBTQIA” or “LGBTQ+.” I ran into it several years ago, originally online, but I’m afraid I don’t remember where.

        2. Reed Weird*

          Research is telling me an article by Sadie Lee, “Final Call: Kate Bornstein” in Diva Magazine in 2006. I first heard it on Tumblr back in 2013 or so, but I don’t think I’ve heard it since except in discussions of the ways people refer to LGBTQ+ and rearrange the acronym.

        3. Cyborg Llama Horde*

          I’ve mostly seen it online, but occasionally in person. It’s my preferred letter salad because letters don’t get dropped off the end of it. I’m pretty sure it’s author Bogi Takacs’s go-to, as well.

    2. Rae*

      I believe there was some kind of anniversary exhibition/event about the AIDS quilt in the past couple years, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the people who came up with the idea weren’t alive/aware during the original and learned vaguely about it from being aware of the recent anniversary. I could definitely see how if they didn’t get the full context, they might either mistakenly make the connection of quilts = a historical form of queer activism as opposed to this one specific thing, and/or knew it was about HIV/AIDS but doesn’t grasp that at the time “awareness” was literally people fighting to the government even *acknowledge* a nearly 100% terminal disease devastating their community, as opposed to modern “awareness” that’s heavily centered on stuff like pamphlets at Pride festivals or LGBTQ+ centers featuring smiling interracial gay couples saying “Ask your healthcare provider about PrEP/PEP today!”

  6. MissGirl*

    I want to work at company 7 for six months just to be witness to that kind of crazy and blast it all on social media.

  7. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

    #7, with men speaking about the influential women in their lives — breathtakingly bad. Not only the obvious problem of men doing the speaking and women kept silent, but the value of women seems to be exclusively in how they help their men be successful.

    Together with the other egregious examples, it seems like management there must have been born somewhere around 1880…

    1. Artemesia*

      nah. I grew up in the 50s and this was absolutely the role of women of my mother’s generation.

      1. It's Marie - Not Maria*

        I grew up in the 1970’s and that was the expectation for my generation as well.

        1. Former Young Lady*

          I live in Utah in the 2020s and it’s still definitely the vibe in many places around here!

  8. North American Couch Wizard Society*

    The sheer brilliance of the pay gap cake almost makes up for how irritating it must have been to be asked to bake a cake for International Women’s Day. I hope

  9. AnonPi*

    Nothing like attending a women’s leadership conference where the men in the discussion panel proceeded to mansplain, correct, and talk over the women in the panel, about “their problems”.

    Good thing it was online, if it was in person I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have restrained myself.

    1. Texan In Exile*

      It wasn’t until I read Caroline Criado Perez’s book “Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men” that I learned that until recently, drugs were tested almost exclusively on men and that there was research on uterine cancer, I think, in the ’70s, that was done – on men but not on women.

        1. Tiger Snake*

          A woman’s hormones fluctuate throughout their monthly cycle, and that makes it ‘too difficult’ to reliably study.

          No seriously, that’s it. That was the argument for why studying affects on women was too hard, why the pharmaceutical companies made sure the laws were written the way they were, and why they still get away with it in a lot of their drug testing regimes. Nothing to account for that. Nothing to ask whether your drug impacts that in any way. That’s too hard.

          Yeah, this is one I’m personally quite angry about.

          1. Texan In Exile*

            Don’t even get me started on the fact that we have solved the scourge of ED but women still suffer from PMS and endometriosis. We die in childbirth and menopause can be not comfortable.

            But we focus our research dollars on men.

            Oh well I’m started.

            There is five times more research into erectile dysfunction, which affects 19% of men, than into premenstrual syndrome, which affects 90% of women. (The Guardian)

            In 2020, the U.S. government announced that funding for endometriosis research would be doubled to $26 million annually. (Medical News Today)

            the U.S. Department of Defense spent $41.6 million on Viagra and $84.24 million total on drugs for erectile dysfunction in 2014. (CBS News)

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        That is a phenomenal book. Back when I was a virologist there was very little data on any kind of trials that didn’t involve white cis men – and when I asked was told ‘well, women have weird hormone shifts and extra organs that men don’t have so they are harder to study’

        Additionally there was a mindset of ‘if we do anything and it removes a woman’s ability to have babies then we’d be in the wrong so better not to do anything at all’.

        For reference: I studied herpesviruses.

      2. Media Monkey*

        i’ve been trying to read that book for about 6 months. every time i try i read about 10 pages and get so angry that i have to go onto something else!

        1. Imprudence*

          I think the not testing drugs on women is the fear that they might be pregnant, and the drugs might be dangerous to the developing child. Anyone remember thalidomide?

          But that doesn’t make it right or helpful. After all, if women are so completely different to men, how would it be safe to give them drugs that hadn’t been tested on them?

  10. Call Me Wheels*

    Fwiw the everyone use a wheelchair for a day thing is exactly what I’ve been trying to organise at my university (as a wheelchair user myself). People really don’t appreciate the depth of the issues until they have even just a little experience themselves. It isn’t going to solve everything but for some people it could be the push needed to get in an expert who can properly look at acceptibility needs and get them implemented. So personally I like to see things like that done.

    On a similar note, my friend’s mum who is blind does great work with a local charity for blind people giving kind of like ‘blind experience’ days for construction workers to help them understand how important the accessibility features they’re building are. For future disability days looking into something like that could be a cool thing to suggest :)

    1. ScruffyInternHerder*

      It was an exercise for us (that was coordinated by one of the third-parties mentioned upthread, or at least they helped with it, its been a second and I wasn’t involved in the organization of it) in school – with the theory being that having architecture students actually have to live with different abilities over the course of even an hour or two might help solve things at the level of buildings designed for/retrofitted for better accessibility. I thought at the time it was fairly well done, with informational sessions throughout the day about how more intelligence and empathy on the part of designers could make life suck so much less for others.

      1. Fran*

        Doing it right with trainers, discussion and information. Not just a performative action like it sounds like with the OP.

        1. ScruffyInternHerder*

          Yes. And it was specifically from the standpoint of “this is a design consideration that you need to consider”. And it wasn’t just “wheelchairs”. There were other aids used, other simulations used, and (to a point further downthread) examples made of correct adaptive technologies.

      2. Angstrom*

        Automotive designers have “age suits” that restrict mobility and perception, and will use “emapthy bellies” to get a feel for the physical mobility limitations of pregnancy. It doesn’t replace working with those populations, but it is another way to test their designs.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          Can they find a way to make themselves shorter, too? So many cars are not designed for those of us under a certain height. (I am also looking at you, furniture designers!)

          1. Brrr*

            I make my husband crouch down to my height when I’m making a point about how I can’t see/reach something. And likewise sometimes I’ll stand on a stool to understand why he has to be careful of reaching overhead when the ceiling fan is running. For furniture design I recently heard someone talking about ergonomics of office furniture, explaining that most furniture is designed for average height. Which means it actually fits almost no one – if you have someone 5 feet tall and someone 6 feet tall and design them each a desk for the average 5-and-a-half foot person, it won’t fit either of them! We need adjustable furniture.

        2. Chickadee*

          This, absolutely. I use a screen reader and several other tools to check my websites for accessibility; it helps me catch a lot of errors before I hire a disability consultant to do a final check. (I’d be mortified if I hired someone and they couldn’t even navigate past the first page!)

      3. YetAnotherFed*

        If I had gone into engineering, I would love to have the engineering and architecture students go through a disability awareness program. So many of the engineering students are able-bodied young men who don’t think about anything affecting how the end user interacts with their products (mechanical and computer science in particular, I’m looking at your fields).

      4. Trixie Belden was my hero*

        Jonathon Adler, famous architect who contracted a virus and now uses a wheelchair had a whole line of items that are universal design. I think they were featured in Target about 10 years ago.

  11. LittleDoctor*

    Am I the only one who actually thinks a video of all the straight people saying nice things about their gay colleagues and drawing them a little picture is quite cute? Better than what most companies do for Pride.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      The issue with that one is that, as the OP pointed out, it could potentially out some colleagues who don’t feel safe being out at work.

      But I also don’t think it’s cute, sorry. Any more than I would think having men draw pics of women on IWD would be cute, or white ppl drawing pics of any of their POC colleagues would be cute. I think it’s actually rather condescending. If it were, say, all colleagues drawing a pic of some other colleague, then mayyyyyybe it’d be cute but I honestly don’t think picture drawing should be part of work unless work is connected to child care or education in some way.

      1. Snell*

        I wasn’t sure how to word my own feelings, but you’re on a similar track as me, I think. It’s cute when a 6 year old draws some adult they know and gives them the drawing. Kiddo is still learning about the world and interacting with it. For fully grown adults to do to other fully grown adults? Flat no. Putting the drawings together in a “Quilt of the Gays”? In isolation it’s a confusingly weird idea; in historical context it kinda gives me exhausted nausea (again, I’m not sure if I worded that precisely right to accurately reflect my feelings, I just…have the feelings. You know, all those feelings about all the little steps and little actions that became larger actions that all wove together in the sequence of events that became history).

        Also, “better than most” unfortunately still leaves plenty of room for awfulness to make itself at home, especially if what you’re calling better than most isn’t particularly good to begin with.

        1. Yoyoyo*

          “Exhausted nausea” is a good phrase. I wasn’t even born yet when the AIDS quilt was first displayed but that’s immediately where my mind went and it just made my heart sink.

          If someone made a video saying nice things about me because I’m queer and also drew a picture of me, I think I would feel tokenized.

          1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

            oh yes. At work I want to be known as someone who is good at work not by how many genders I am attracted to.

        2. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Yeah, I can’t even with the whole “Quilt of the Gays” thing. I get that that was not what it was officially called but that nickname by the employees is just awful. This company doesn’t seem like the kind of company where it *would* be safe to be out, just based on all the other ideas mentioned in that post.

      2. The Architect*

        Was the picture supposed to be *of* the coworker? That wasn’t clear to me–I thought it was a picture of anything that somehow honored the coworker.

        I still find that an odd exercise. Even without the drawing, if it were just a series of filmed testimonials, I find it an odd exercise. Sometimes a company will spotlight an employee who is part of that particular month, but that is not the same.

      3. MEH Squared*

        Yup, same. As a fat, old, bi, AFAB, agender person, I wouldn’t want my colleagues to draw a pic of me for any reason, but especially not to be included in a quilt that will other me. The whole thing feels condescending AF, not to mention the issues others have brought up with outing or just putting people in such visible boxes.

        I’m proud of all the different components of my identity–even the ones I’m working throughat the moment like gender. That does not mean I want them to be commented on by other people, especially if it were in an office or another professional setting. This is a case where you truly have to let the people who are being, ah, celebrated let you know (general you) what is and isn’t acceptable. (While granting that people within any group are not a monolith.)

      4. Your Computer Guy*

        The picture thing is just weird.
        The “say something nice about your queer colleagues” thing strikes me as very problematic–not just for the potential outing of people, but also for the general “there’s good things about you even though you’re gay” vibe. Like, I get that the intent there clearly wasn’t “redeem the queers”, but there is an inherent implication of “those queers aren’t too bad after all.”
        Now that I think about it, the picture drawing thing could feel a bit like trying to humanize the queers, which is also suboptimal.

        My work doesn’t do anything for Pride and that suits me fine. I’m an obvious lesbian with a haircut that counts as it’s own pride parade. All I want is equality before the law and in my workplace. I definitely don’t need corporate folk art.

        1. corner piece*

          Corporate folk art! I love this phrase, but what it really brings up for me are detached puzzle pieces as clipart in a powerpoint.

          1. Your Computer Guy*

            We could curate a whole collection of art. The bland, floral prints from conference rooms. A sampling of motivational phrases applied to walls. Weird metal tchotchkes from reception areas.
            For a while, all power points at my office involved these creepy, faceless, balloon-type people. Like, the “any questions” slide would have one of these little people standing there “looking” down (again, no actual face) in apparent thought or puzzlement. I finally broke and asked about these terrifying little people during a presentation. Turns out they were in the original power point template that most people used and no one had ever questioned them before.
            Made me wonder what else we all just accept as part of our office surroundings.

            1. Slow Gin Lizz*

              I also love the phrase “corporate folk art.” That stuff is soooo weird. Like, who decides which weird metal tchotchke should go in the reception area??

              And I know of those faceless ppt people. I don’t find them creepy but they are a rather odd choice for a corporate powerpoint presentation.

      5. Friendly Neighborhood Trash Gremlin*

        Reminds me of a horror movie on Netflix right now called “There’s Someone Inside Your House” (pretty good! Slasher-comedy with “Scream meets Heathers” vibes, but stay away if you don’t like blood). There’s a scene where the popular overachiever reads the whole school a portion of her college essay that turns out to be about how inspired she is by the one non-binary kid at school, to the complete and utter embarrassment of that kid. It’s a fantastic illustration of how inappropriate that is.

      6. Jamjari*

        Or get people talking nicely about their colleagues who they think are gay but aren’t, just because they don’t fit their particular idea of a cis het person.

    2. Sylvan*

      It outs people to the whole company, and the whole company probably doesn’t consist of only supportive people, and it seems like a weird reference to the AIDS Memorial Quilt.

    3. Fluffy Fish*

      In addition to what other people have said, to me it smacks of “othering”.

      Colleagues should be nice to and about each other because they’re colleagues not because they are a member of an underrepresented and mistreated group.

      It feels like “hey look I can say nice things about Joe even though he’s gay.”

      Just no.

      1. CM*

        Yes, this plus at work, you aren’t supposed to be categorized by your identity. Unless your identity is “accounting” or “roof construction” or something. I am just imagining my colleagues drawing pictures of me like they’re five-year olds and I’m their mom. No thank you!

      2. European*

        I was going to write the same. The hidden exception that gay people would be less nice. And we need to remind everyone that they are nice and good employees… very weird.

    4. Nina*

      As a queer person who used to work in an office where senior engineers were known to out junior engineers to the office at large with or without the junior engineer’s knowledge or approval, I would rather die.

  12. CallYourMother*

    Allison wrote: some of the stories shared were so offensive that it’s hard to laugh at them, so these aren’t even the worst of the worst. Yikes! Am I the only one curious about the worst of the worst?

    1. Venus*

      They were posted as comments on that link if you want to read them. Not hard to find, but might be time-consuming.

  13. MissBliss*

    Also not sexism awareness but I’ve also been given a rose on Valentine’s Day in the context of work. I work in fundraising and a board member (a very difficult board member) who had served on a committee I worked with came in the Valentine’s Day *months after the event* with a rose for me and a rose for my boss.

    1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

      I think if my IT colleagues gave me, in my capacity as A Lady Tech, any gift for Valentine’s Day… I would kind of just stare at them and go, “But why? You aren’t my Valentine.” (Though if it was decent chocolate I might arrange to keep it.) Making them explain why this seemed like a good idea would be priceless, though.

      Luckily, I can’t imagine ANY of my coworkers doing this.

  14. PlainJane*

    There’s a place for men having a conversation about being allies. (It should have been fifty years ago and should not be a relevant thing today but…). That place is not during a month dedicated to recognizing women’s achievements.

    1. Irish Teacher*

      And the way it’s phrased – “time to let the men speak” – makes it sound like men are a minority and silenced group whose voices we don’t usually get to hear, which is just…not the case.

        1. La Triviata*

          Several years ago I read about a survey in which men were asked how much women should talk in meetings. The end result was that most of them thought women should be silent.

          1. AngryOctopus*

            There are also studies which show that when a woman speaks 15% of a time in a meeting (guessing at # but it’s way less than 50%), men perceive her as monopolizing the meeting.

  15. Cakeroll*

    A few of these examples are of “allies” taking the lead, and based on the context of the submission I’m sure they’re weren’t done in an planned and inclusive way (especially the “Let Men Speak” example – wow).

    But I do want to say, as someone who represents an under-represented group in the workplace, sometimes it is better if an ally do these kinds of announcements and public presentations. For my group, we were tired of always being called up front as the token LGBTQ people to talk about Pride month while our (all non-LGBTQ-identifying) leadership team stood silently. We pushed instead for them to be the ones delivering the little snippet of queer history we recommended, or highlighting the benefits available we had fought for, etc. It can be exhausting to always have to be the teacher on these topics, especially when there’s only a few or one of you to do so, and is a great way for allies to really prove their allyship and do some of the lifting.

    Obviously, this should be in collaboration with, and by the explicit request of/supported by/approved by the relevant group.

    1. Venus*

      Yes, that came up in the original post as a thoughtful discussion. It’s great to include allies and no one is discouraging that, but it should not be done as the sole event. Another option is to hire someone from the minority group as an official public speaker. That way it doesn’t impact on minority employees work and time, and it provides financial compensation to the public speaker in recognition for their hard work. I had a job a decade ago that did this, and they had a strong ally community too, and it was well done.

    2. Emmy Noether*

      The most important thing for allies to do is to act and speak up in everyday situations, the whole year around. Talking during an event feels mostly performative and self-congratulatory (“look at ME, such a good ally!”).

      Plus the risk of the chosen men actually NOT being good allies, despite of what they think of themselves (not at all rare), and how that would feel to the women who have been the victims of their sexism.

  16. Distracted Librarian*

    The Valentine’s Day one reminds me of my first academic library job after I got my MLS. Every year the president of the college where I worked (in a rural part of a Southern state) would send flowers to all the librarians… on Secretary’s Day.

    1. peacock limit*

      My boss years ago got me a gift on secretary’s day and I chewed him out (politely? we were pretty close, it may not have been polite). I should note there is NOTHING wrong with being an administrative professional, but I am most definitely not one and being a young woman in academia working for a tenured male professor presented enough challenges that his well-intended gesture was exhausting.

      1. Former Young Lady*

        May it please you both to know that a colleague of mine was so confused about the point of “Administrative Professionals Day,” she tried to pass the hat to collect funds to give my (male) grandboss a gift one year. (His title: “Administrative Director.”)

        Most of us just quietly didn’t contribute, and Grand took it all in good humor — probably easy enough to do when you’re pulling down a solid six figures and male privilege has largely protected you from being misidentified as a secretary.

        Still, now I’m fantasizing about anonymously sending all of our (mostly-male) top brass cheap gas-station silk flowers on the day.

        1. STAT!*

          Ha! Reminds me of my confusion as a young person to learn that the heads of government departments had the title “Secretary”. “So there’s like … TWO meanings for the same word??”

    2. InsufficentlySubordinate*

      #6 was mine. Yes, I’m in the South so that probably affected things as well.

  17. Fluffy Fish*

    My brother in laws employer has a cafeteria. This is a federal employer although I’m sure the caf is contracted. They announced in honor of Ramadan they would be featuring middle eastern foods. For Ramadan. While people were fasting.

    I know he complained as did several others. I’ll have to ask him if they went through with it.

    1. Artemesia*

      I think we have a winner. Asking men to talk about women’s issues pales before this.

      1. Fluffy Fish*

        I asked when I went home last night.

        The good news is they did not go through with it and they issued an apology.

    2. The Architect*

      I’m curious is the people who complained were primarily Muslim or primarily non-Muslim. The reason I am curious is that Ramadan isn’t just about fasting. Ramadan is about a lot of things, but part of it includes gatherings after sunset where food features prominently. As an opportunity to bring a part of Muslim culture to a non-Muslim audience, it works.

      I feel like the bigger problem is that the cafeteria associates Muslim = Middle Eastern, when in fact Islamic populations exist and are sometimes a majority across multiple non-Middle Eastern countries.

      1. Fluffy Fish*

        While my BIL is not Muslim, he has colleagues that are and they absolutely did complain.

        While yes Ramadan is about more than fasting, fasting is a central part of the observance. It’s reducing a religious celebration down to a perception of food “those people” eat AND making “honoring” the holiday food centric during the hours that actual people celebrating Ramadan cannot eat.

        It’s wildly bad and tone def – it absolutely does not “work” at all in any sense.

    3. UKDancer*

      Oh dear. My company has organised an iftar (meal to break the fast) before now which worked very well and featured a range of foods from different Muslim countries. Obviously that works better when the sunset is about 4pm so they aren’t doing it this year because sunset is at 7pm so people won’t be around.

      But yes, way to miss the point having a Ramadan meal at lunchtime.

    4. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      Years ago, my wife worked for a company that sold and repaired oriental carpets. So, rich clientele and smarmy business owners, and of course they didn’t get sick or vacation days. One year, it was Labor Day and the smarmy business owner comes into the room and sees all the repair workers beavering away and makes some horrible “joke” about how, “at XYZ Rug Company, we celebrate Labor Day by laboring! Ho ho ho”.

    5. anon for this*

      My work held a “bring food from your culture and share at lunchtime for multicultural awareness” event during Ramadan.

  18. ConfusedAcademic*

    About five years ago, at my large U.S. university, my whole department had to sit through an hour-long “diversity” “training”. It consisted of gems like: men and women communicate so differently that it’s hard for them to understand each other; it’s practically impossible to bridge this divide; and patently false and offensive statements about sexual harassment (such as: you must say “no” for it to “count” as harassment and the lines around harassment are so fuzzy that no one ever really knows).

    It was so oblivious to the gender spectrum and to LGBTQIA identities that I was fuming. Plus, it spread really harmful misconceptions about sexual harassment. I actually wrote a two-page letter to the university VP in charge of diversity and included a list of references! I sincerely hope someone got in big trouble for this “training” trainwreck.

    1. Timothy (TRiG)*

      There’s a book called The Myth of Mars and Venus. It’s great fun if you enjoy debunking or linguistics, and I like both. It’s by Deborah Cameron, who’s a professor of Language and Communication, and it takes apart Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus beautifully. It’s lovely to see an actual expert at work.

    2. Former Young Lady*

      Whaaaaat. Did they fly in John Gray to read from his ridiculous books about how the Only Two Genders are from different planets?

      I’ll be over here crying for no reason*, like a total woman.

      *Actually, there’s a reason. The reason is the patriarchy.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Oh dear god, I think you had my toxic ex boss speaking. He of the ‘women shouldn’t friendzone men because that is what is behind all harassment claims’ opinion.

  19. TryingAgain*

    About five years ago, at my large U.S. university, my whole department had to sit through an hour-long “diversity” “training”. It consisted of gems like: men and women communicate so differently that it’s hard for them to understand each other; it’s practically impossible to bridge this divide; and patently false and offensive statements about sexual harassment (such as: you must say “no” for it to “count” as harassment and the lines around harassment are so fuzzy that no one ever really knows). It was so oblivious to the gender spectrum and to LGBTQIA identities that I was fuming. Plus, it spread really harmful misconceptions about sexual harassment. I actually wrote a two-page letter to the university VP in charge of diversity and included a list of references! I sincerely hope someone got in big trouble for this “training” trainwreck.

  20. CommanderBanana*

    Pay-gap cake lady is my hero.

    My former org thought it would be a great idea to have the DEI lead be a middle aged white man who is named after a Confederate general (not his fault, I know, but) whose only notable achievements had been his meteoric rise from entry level to just sub-C-suite because he was a friend of the CEO, despite having basically no experience at all.

    This organization has become steadily and steadily less diverse, since the new(ish) CEO would only promote people who look like (white, male) him.

  21. Meep*

    All these stories did for me was confirm that men are sensitive little beings who cannot stand not being the center of attention and praised for even a quarter of a second.

    1. Jam on Toast*

      I recently heard someone describe male feelings as “he-motions”! I thought it was the most marvellous portmanteau ever!

  22. You can't make it up*

    I worked for a well-known national non-profit that prides itself on being open and inclusive. However, at “Celebrate Diversity” night at a national conference, the main speaker and co-founder of the company (a white guy) shared the most tone deaf and offensive story I couldn’t begin to make up. Apparently he and his family were so inspired by the people they met in Africa while on vacation, that they named their dog after a little boy they met there. I have never seen so many people just get up and leave a stadium in my life. When I came home from the conference, my face must have really given it away because my husband asked “What, did some white guy say offensive and racist things?” YUP.

    1. CM*

      That one definitely belongs on a list! But I’m glad so many people visibly got up and left.

  23. TechWorker*

    My company had an international women’s day event that involved a group dance (?!) – like ‘learn the routine & we’ll all do it together’. As someone who actually loves dance… this is still bullshit! My grandboss assured me it wasn’t (only?) sexism as he’d been asked to dance at a senior leaders offsite in a sort of ‘let’s all get rid of our inhibitions’ session. Wtf.

  24. A Simple Narwhal*

    My jaw dropped further and further as I read through these. Thank goodness for the palate cleanser at the end!

  25. No Longer Gig-Less Data Analyst*

    “it’s women’s month … time to let the men speak.”

    “Recognizing Women through the Voices of Men.”

    I don’t know whether to laugh or cry that those are from two completely different companies/entries. Good grief!

  26. Only once but then again...*

    Oh wow, my company had a Women’s Day event, where all the women employees employees were allowed to attend a seminar on succeeding in the workplace… and everyone else was excluded!

    Transmen, agender, genderfluid, third gender, two-spirited… completely disallowed. On what is supposed to be a day of inclusivity.

    The company immediately sent an apology and said next year’s event would be more inclusive. Learn your lessons people! Gender is not a binary. We actually have more gender diverse individuals then we do cis-women.

    1. Martin Blackwood*

      Listen, if you invited me, a trans guy, to your womens only womens day event, i would think you were transphobic before i thought you were inclusive. Trans men *arent* women, and while im sure some trans men would be okay with talking about their experiences with sexism at such an event, those experiences arent going to be the same as yours. You seem very well intentioned, i dont want any trans guys you come across IRL to hate you.

      And really, imo, womens day isnt a day of inclusivity. Its a day for women, or else it wouldnt be called womens day, and thats fine. Theres TDOV for me.

      1. allathian*

        I wonder if trans women were invited to this event? Obviously it’s possible that there are no trans women employees at this workplace, but excluding trans women would not have been okay.

      2. metadata minion*

        As a nonbinary person, same here, especially since AFAB nobinary people tend to get slotted into a “basically just quirky women, right??” category.

        I think there’s totally a space for a more broad-reaching “how to succeed in the workplace as a gender minority” (or however you want to phrase “not a cis man”; I haven’t seen one that isn’t vaguely problematic for one reason or another) seminar, but that place is not Women’s Day.

        1. Bread Crimes*

          Oh god I am so glad you said this. I am so tired of nonbinary being lumped in as “sparkling female” in these matters. I was once blocked by a long-standing acquaintance online because she was ranting about how “Women in X” collections weren’t including a whole list of gender identities that are not women, and how exclusionary this was. And when I said, hey, if I were nonbinary, I’d actually rather not be lumped in as “women” by default, thanks.

          So she blocked me as a transphobe. I was even less out about my gender identity at the time, but I’m sure if I had been out, she just would have womansplained to me about how wrong I was about my own identity. Sigh.

          But frankly the tendency to turn “X for/about women” into “X about everyone who is not a straight queer man” is so frustrating, on and on, because it’s pushed by a lot of “Oh, we’re being inclusive!” people, but it ends up reinforcing the idea that Straight Cis Man is the primary/default experience of being human, and anything other than that is interchangeable Other. Ugh.

        2. Laura*

          I agree. Nonbinary here, but all gender based disadvantages I have experienced in my life came from being perceived female, not from being perceived nonbinary. (Being perceived as “probably male” actually conferred advantages.) So if there is anything left to learn about how to succeed in the workplace despite being perceived as a women, this would be useful to me. It would be less useful to an openly genderqueer-perceieved-male friend because he has a different set of problems.

          I would also be sceptical about a one-size-fits-all “Succeeding in the workplace”-training.

        3. Martin Blackwood*

          I was close to inluding a bit in my original comment that happened a few years ago in high school. I identified as NB at the time, and didnt attend a womens day event, while a NB friend did attend and made a comment about including NB people to the teacher organizing the event. I made a general comment about how i didnt want to be included in women day to our friend group, and that was it, because i was a senior and cared about that event not at all. Better things to do. So, in some cases some NB people might want to be included, and this might be the case at Only Once’s company depending on who spoke up. Definitely not a one-size-fits-all situation, though.

        1. Snell*

          Grouping transmen, agender, genderfluid, third gender, and two-spirited people in with women for an event designated as a women’s event isn’t being inclusive, it’s being transphobic. Maybe you take issue with the concept of Women’s Day itself as a day for women, and there’s always endless discussion there.

          Telling people who do not identify as women that the women’s event is for them? That’s misgendering them, not including them. If someone does identify as a woman and the event organizers had a stick stuck somewhere deep and dark, and wouldn’t allow them in? That’s one thing. It’s also not what you described at your workplace.

        2. Martin Blackwood*

          I would like to be gender affirmingly excluded from your womens day event, with all the cis men. By doing that you are being way more inclusive than giving me a girl power seminar.

          Seriously, some of the NB people at your work might appreciate it but any trans men wont. Should trans ppl have access resources to succeed at work, yeah! Ideally speciallized for us, not for women. But that doesnt have to happen on Womens day, just like you dont have to celebrate Black, AAPI, indiginous, etc history at the same time in order to achieve true inclusivity.

          1. Only once but then again...*

            What are your concerns with an inclusive invitation to this event? What is the absolutely worst case scenario for you if there are several agendered people at this event?

            1. Snell*

              This depends on what exactly the nature of the event is, and what kind of participation is expected of attendees. It honestly sounds like you would prefer a general kind of event, not a women’s event. Reasonable enough. Also, depending on the nature of the event, it would also be reasonable for people other than women to attend, also depending on their level of involvement—all along the comments here, and in the comments of the previous post calling for stories, there’s been discussion about how men can productively, positively contribute by being allies, instead of, you know, centering Women’s Day on men’s experiences, men’s perspectives, men’s voices, to the exclusion of the people the day is allegedly dedicated to.

              What’s not okay is trying to encompass wide swaths of the gender spectrum under the label “woman,” which is what everyone else in this thread is objecting to. They’re not worried about what will happen if an agender person attends a Women’s Day event, they’re pushing back against the idea that “agender” is a subset of “women.” If you’re concerned about agender visibility, there are observances on other days for that. There are observances for damn near everything nowadays. Like Martin Blackwood says above, celebrating one group on one day doesn’t preclude celebrating another group on another day.

              *I think I’m being overly generous by giving you the benefit of the doubt here, but I haven’t seen anyone put it in plain words yet: trans men identify as men, not women. There’s been a lot of fight put up in order to be societally perceived as men. If you’re pro-trans people and you simply used the wrong term by mistake, now you know, and you can go forward doing better. If you meant that trans men are a subset of women, then you’re not arguing in good faith here, which, well, you already seem a bit too ready to discount the perspective of the trans guy in this thread. If you meant that Women’s Day is centered on the entire gender spectrum, you’re just outright wrong and missed the point of having a Women’s Day, and, as I said earlier, I really think you’d be much more satisfied not observing Women’s Day at all, which you don’t have to. There’s plenty of seminars on how to succeed in the workplace, and almost all of them aren’t associated with Women’s Day at all.

            2. Martin Blackwood*

              Ive been pretty clear that Im saying you shouldnt invite trans men to a womens day event, and am very much not to make group statements about what non binary people do or do not want. You are replying to a comment that says “some of the NB people at your work might appreciate it but any trans men wont.” That….doesnt have anything to do with what you just said. It feels like youre grouping trans men and agender people in the same bucket. Theyre different, which is why they are different words.

  27. reg*

    for women’s day a few years ago, my director, who was a woman, began a standard meeting by naming one singular notable woman, could not recall any details about who she actually was, made one of the staff talk about this notable woman, and nodded along while the staff member said something hilariously inaccurate

    1. thisishalloween*

      I’d like to begin this discussion by mentioning Ada Lovelace…pioneer of shoelaces and fan of elderberry wine and Theodore Roosevelt.

      1. Jam on Toast*

        Or Jane Austen. Without her brave contributions to the field of competitive roller derby, hotdog eating contests and first person video games, the world would be a much less wonderful place.

        1. The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon*

          Originator of the famous catchphrase “Always be rollin’, doggin’, and shootin’.”

        2. Jaydee*

          Or Clara Barton, namesake of the residence hall I lived in during college, who we all know invented both the post-it note and cinnamon raisin bread.

  28. JustAnAdmin*

    I once asked on a workplace blog for advice on launching a women’s network initiative. Several commenters told me to ask the men what they wanted to get out of it.

  29. Balls deep*

    The first three of these are all things that have been done at my work. All of the diversity, equity and inclusion groups or webinars have missed the mark tremendously. I can relate to the first one.

    The first one was; FINDING YOUR MALE ALLIES. I submitted a question to senior leadership and ultimately got some bogus answer (the thing is they even got the questions BEFORE the event). The women on the webinar CAME to play, and the men on the panel were absolutely CLUELESS on how to actually support the women in the organization. Many women shared how disappointed they were with the event even during it through the chat function. These men had NO IDEA that women faced discrimination in the workplace. I asked about working mothers, and senior leadership just said “I would value her!” He couldn’t explain any ways he could help lift them up or support his colleagues, just that he would listen to her opinion.

    The third one reminds me when they gave the Woman of the Year award to Ron Swanson. You think this is satire until it actually happens to you, it is both sad and completely hilarious at the same time.

    I could go on and on about ALL of the covert sexism at my job. The thing is they DON’T even know. The women however? Yeah when a bunch of old white males go into a room for an hour… They’ve started bringing more women into the meetings (including me, sometimes for visibility reasons.) But it’s sad how many of us have this experience.

  30. Aurora Borealis*

    Now can you do a post on companies that got it very very right? It would be a nice change to hear some nice words instead of how bad things are 24/7.

  31. SB*

    I work in a VERY male dominated field (out of almost 300 employees there are 17 women & only two of us hold any sort of management position) & the one year senior management tried to do a women’s day thing the guys complained that they don’t get a men’s day thing so we shouldn’t get special treatment. So they decided not to do anything.

    None of us were overly concerned by this decision but it was interesting to see the tantrum the suggestion caused!

  32. Dhaskoi*

    I work for a disability care organisation and one year it fell to me to give the speech at the morning tea we held on the day. I gave a quick presentation about the percentage of women vs men providing disability care and how the majority is done by women (particularly when working unpaid, i.e care provided by family members, spouses, friends, etc) and in the middle of listing the work they do – and the economic value of this unpaid work – one guy piped up with “Yeah, but men do all that too!”

    Yes, he had a TBI, but sexism is not a symptom.

  33. Raida*

    One was senior leadership using wheelchairs all day for Disabilities Awareness Month.

    Actually, if this is not done as a stunt or a funny activity, this kind of thing is very effective at creating empathy and understanding in a solid practical way.

    We do this at work (public transport) with teams having to get to team lunch/activities using public transport and a limitation – low vision goggles, a cane you and now you can’t use stairs more than half a flight high, resting every block for a minute, limited to elevators and ramps, using text to voice from mobile phones, wearing noise cancelling earmuffs (good luck hearing train platform change announcements).

    This has resulted in staff *seeing* where our services and network are creating limitations for passengers and potential passengers.

    For the office space itself, a wheelchair would immediately show them where things aren’t able to be reached without standing, where car parking is not practical, where processes to request accommodations are slow or opaque, where signage is set too high, where the alternate route is five times as slow…

    IF done well, it’s a great way to build empathy and understanding in a physical world rather than the more intangible “it’s so inspiring to see disabled people working” or “think about how this would feel”

  34. Raida*

    I do think there’s value in men having a voice for womens’ events, instead of being talked at (which has definitely been the case in places I’ve worked a few times, blech).

    But it has to be of value, it has to be checked first for compatibility with the subject, it has to be about tangibles and what made them think differently and what they have supported.

    It can’t be “i love my Mum she worked so hard she’s impressive”

    It needs to be “I was told men get paid more for the same work so we analysed our salaries by gender. I identified that pay rises and bonuses are even in dollars and percentages, but starting salaries are where the differences are coming from. Where percentages were used the gaps get larger over time.
    So we discussed this and realised that we all knew of times when someone suggested a higher offer to a male applicant because he’s a good fit, but nobody knew of the same for female applicants. We didn’t see any difference in the applications, we didn’t see any difference in the work qualities. We realised that there was a gung-ho attitude to some of our hiring which favoured men *specifically in regards to starting salary* where they were a real ‘catch’ that we should get.
    So – we used the budget for pay rises and bonuses that year to increase every woman’s pay to the standard of their male counterparts. We set our hiring salaries without a range except when approved headhunting activities were required.
    Our workforce, with these two changes, are now paid fairly. It was done decisively, it was done in under a year, and everyone knew their bonuses and raises were to have a budget as per usual the next year.
    And damn I’m proud that we were able to realise that we needed these changes to stop ourselves falling into old patterns and look at applicants differently.”

    THAT is the kind of thing that’s important and valuable and interesting and inspiring for the audience where there’s no judgement, talking *at* them, emotional load, just factual valuable responsible leadership.
    I’ve seen women and men present in this kind of way, and it’s such a tangible outcome-focussed talk that it really seems to get through to the audience.

  35. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

    I see there’s a lot wrong with this idea. But as a person with moderate hearing loss who relies on hearing aids and still can’t understand half the #@$%! people mumble at me, I would definitely be down with having a bunch of people stick earplugs in their ears to find out what it’s like when rude people mumble gibberish at you and then look baffled, annoyed, or just plain unconcerned when you have to ask them to repeat something. q fact, I would love the

  36. Luna*

    Just reading #1’s little label of “It’s women’s day, time to let the men speak” made me let out a huge laugh of ‘Are you serious?’. That is not even tone-deaf, that is a brain-dead level of unawareness.

    And the employee from #8 is my hero.

  37. Elizabeth West*

    Oh. Mah. Gaw.

    1. Let men speak
    No. Shut up.

    2. The book
    I remember those pamphlets but we got them in school. >_<

    3. The honorees

    4. The slideshow
    I thought of five or six just off the top of my head, and none of them were Lucy Liu (who is admittedly amazing).

    5. The missed point
    Bless her heart.

    6. The roses
    I cannot say what I am actually thinking because this is the internet.

    7. The repeated misses
    “Recognizing Women through the Voices of Men;” the posters – again, shut up, also Dear Baby Jesus on a merry-go-round, WTF.

    8. The cake

  38. Bridie*

    Last year for International Women’s Day a colleague I’d worked with once or twice emailed me (and his other female coworkers, I assume? We were bcc’d): “You are bold, beautiful, compassionate, and Inspiring in everything you do.” I didn’t know how to respond so I never did, but I immediately saved that email! I was a little disappointed not to receive one this year.

    On another note, our women’s BRG just held an event where a female executive was introduced as “someone who has been integral to our company, but more than that, is a wife, sister, daughter, and mother!” She then proceeded to share her life story, with lots of pictures of her kids and extended family. It ended with her results from several personality tests, one of which she said showed her that she needed to be less bossy and aggressive. The topic, by the way, was supposed to be work-life balance, which she had achieved by her husband being a stay at home parent. I can’t really follow that advice on my paycheck…

  39. Anony4884*

    At my company, they had a webinar of women leaders at the speakers. At the end of the webinar was an after-hours social engagement activity. Guess what that activity was? It was a cooking class demonstration.

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